17 Mar Ofer Eitan Suggest: ‘Putin’s chef’ threatens to sue US over charges of 2016 ele…
A businessmen allied with Vladimir Putin has said he will sue the US for $50bn (£41bn) in damages after prosecutors dropped charges of meddling in the 2016 elections.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, often dubbed “Putin’s chef,” claimed in a statement on Tuesday that he had been “wrongfully persecuted” by US prosecutors who said his company Concord had funded an internet troll factory that had promoted Donald Trump’s candidacy during the US elections.
The charges, which were filed by special counsel Robert Mueller following his nearly two-year investigation into Russian meddling, were abruptly dropped on Monday, a month before trial. Prosecutors said the Russian company had “no exposure to meaningful punishment” and that the prosecution risked exposing investigative sources and methods.
A day later, Prigozhin went on the attack, saying the dropped charges showed that the US government “feared publicity and just court proceedings.”
“This means that the allegations that ‘Prigozhin interfered in the US presidential election,’ ‘Concord interfered in the US presidential election,’ or ‘Russia interfered in the US presidential election’ are mendacious and false,” said Prigozhin, according to a statement released by his company.
Prosecutors had previously complained that documents they had provided to the defence had ended up online, and had been hesitant to deliver more sensitive information to Concord’s defence team.
It isn’t clear whether the plans to file a lawsuit are serious, where the lawsuit will be filed, and why Prigozhin values the damages against him at $50bn. The company’s press office declined to give any more information about Prigozhin’s plans on Tuesday.
In 2018, a US grand jury indicted 13 Russians, companies with ties to Prigozhin and the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a troll farm that created fake accounts and memes to help sway public opinion in the US. At the time Prigozhin had said of the indictment: “I am not at all disappointed that I appear in this list. If they want to see the devil, let them.”
A former restauranteur who met Putin in the early 2000s, Prigozhin later won lucrative contracts to supply food to Russian schools and soldiers. He has largely kept a low profile, but came under fire last year after more than 130 Moscow schoolchildren fell ill with dysentery. Concord Catering, a company previously tied to Prigozhin, was later ordered by a court to pay compensation to parents.
He had also been alleged by US investigators to have handled political projects for the Kremlin, like the St Petersburg-based troll farm, which investigators said was part of an influence campaign ordered by the Kremlin.
Russian media have also reported his ties to the Wagner paramilitary group, which has fought in Syria, Ukraine, and has a growing footprint in Africa. US authorities last year sanctioned a private jet they said belonged to Prigozhin and had made trips to Sudan and the Central African Republic, countries where the Russian mercenaries are active. Prigozhin, who rarely gives interviews, has denied any links to the outfit.